I did NOTHING: Not a KID any more... I must DO
By forceps, I was forced into this life on, an early Thursday morning, 17 May in Male' the capital island of Maldives. I caused pain to my mother. One day casually my Grandma said to me “the day you were born and when your father realised that it was a girl he went away and did not look at you for 10 days” This was crushing news to hear an I kept telling myself that it was a big lie. I started to believe that it was my fault that he was away from home to earn a living. Worse, I believed that everything that was going wrong in the household was my fault. The anger, the hostility, blame and the hatred towards each other was my fault. With a sense of great loneliness, guilt and confusion I grew up. I kept my thoughts to me. I trusted non. I am skeptical of any kindness shown towards me. I still strongly believe that nothing is for free. I grew up among some kids who had one parent. I watched the injustice and I did nothing.
Once I was born expectations, a belief system and a culture that has a specific status for girls and women were attributed to me. I think I was seven when my aunt said “one day you will be washing the dirty jeans of all boys...” I grew up regularly being reminded that I will be married, looking after kids, staying home cooking and washing for the men. I get infuriated and stare at the adults with wrath and anger. I did not get into any “serious” trouble with my family or at school. I went to school but school did not help me much with my emotions. I felt I was useless and one teacher repeatedly stated “... you are a disgrace to your family...” making me feel beyond worse. It was sheer humiliation. I studied when teachers were good and stayed just among the students. I regarded my success as 'happy go lucky'. I learnt much later my success is related to efforts. Through effort, I proved them wrong by having a decent education, being independent and bring up two kids with minimal assistance from their father.
A nation without a social framework
Children who are orphaned, abandoned, neglected and abused have limited support and it is an enormously sensitive issue in the silent Maldivian community. Political outlook has changed in Maldives and the vulnerability of children have increased. Thirty years of one party ruling in Maldives was brought down in 2008. A new ruling party took the position to lead the Maldives with new hopes that also brought multi party unhealthy competitions. Now there is even greater divide in the community. The key two parties create the blue and yellow divide in the country. This leads to uncertainty throughout the country and creating division among families. The important issues as education, health, social well being and justice are neglected as the political leaders focus either to be in power or to obtain power. Corruption and violence is becoming a norm. The hostility, anger, hatred and manipulation of the weak have not changed but rather increased. It is the vulnerable children who are suffering the most.
The issue of safety of children came to discussion in Maldives in the 1990s when Maldives signed the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child. It was in 2004 an institution named “Kudakudhinge Hiya” was established. Prior to 2004 the caring for vulnerable kids where in the hands of relatives or elder siblings. The capacity of this institution allows about 40 children to reside there. Currently there are more than 60 children and they are orphans, victims of abuse and children of parents who have committed major crimes and serving their sentence in confinement. Kids express “I don't want to live here.” “My mother will come soon.” This government institution is forced to look after these kids as their relatives would not include these kids in their families and take responsibility for them. Most of theses kids are abandoned and abused in the institution with only a few orphans.
Outreach Centres were initiated in 2006 and more efforts were made to create children rights awareness. In 2010 Social Workers started to be active throughout the country. However, lack of expertise, human resource, low moral and high staff turnover hinders positive outcome. A young women working with the children expressed “community support is very less they perceive these disadvantaged kids are a responsibility of the government... kids of drug users, crime doers... only this year (2011) the law was passed and it is not too clear...' Without clear guidelines the challenges are huge for the people working in this area. These kids have become a burden to the relatives and to the society without any fault of them.
Kids are hit harder yet they survive
It is a culture in the Maldives that children from the outer islands, in their teens, move to Male' the capital island and live in homes of people in Male'. Some would be fortunate enough to get an education later to be free and independent while struggling to satisfy the owner's demands. These children are subject to all sorts of humiliations, physical and emotional abuses. One of my friends confided in me saying “I was made to do all sorts of work plus 'havadhu fudun” (grinding curry past - solely a female task) before I can attend to my studies... I also go without food.” I have heard stories from people who have experienced sufferings and witnessed people subjected to ridicule. Another confession “ I had to wash the underwear and knickers stained with menstruation stains.” The stories they told me were buried in my silence. I did nothing.
In hope for an education Honey moved to Male' but she ended up as a house maid. She did the house work, cleaning, helping with the cooking, sweeping, doing laundry and assisting in the grocery shopping. She needed much time to study that she did not have after her housemaid duties. She gave up her studies and became a full-time housemaid of an atoll-chief’s house in Male' serving his wife and children. She says “not everyone can learn” Honey is positive with a good sense of humour.
Honey's situation made my conviction stronger to be independent. Some evenings we indirectly discuss issues of life and give moral support to endure life. My internal anger and frustrations increased. I mistrust people who treat the weak poorly. My childhood mistrust was warranted by the actions of the father of the children. He cowardly wrote to me “.... get an abortion....” I have burn the evidence, and I cannot remember the details, my tears are the only evidence of that mean request. I decided against an abortion, buried the incident, and lived in silence. I did not give up my job when he pressed on many occasions. I was blamed for being an unloving, insensitive and uncaring mother. I am glad that I did not give in and continued my education and kept my job when in 2003 I had to face my worst challenge. The divorce from the children's father shattering the “dream like family” that I was able create for my kids and portray to the world.
Just like me Honey got married had a child and then was divorced. I must mention here Maldives one of the countries with the highest divorce rate. After the divorce, Honey felt working as a maid in Male' would help to provide a better education for her son. Years later remarrying the father of the son she returned to the birth island and started a new life in her own community. It was short-lived, her husband died of cancer, now a widow with 2 young kids and an older son. She works and is struggling to bring up her kids and support the eldest son. She told me “ I haven’t asked anyone to give me anything. By God's help I am surviving” Honey, is an inspiration to me.
The politics in her island annoyance and makes her angry “MDP got rid of the staff working at the atoll-chief’s house stating that they do not need the workers any more but MDP hired people who belong to their party.... this is so unfair...” she stated. Unjust and corruption at every level and people like Honey and her children suffers tremendously when the political parties aim is to gain votes to remain in power. Imagine in a country of less than 400,000.00 people with several parties fighting between each other as if in a cold war. People lack morality causing violence, aggression, blaming others and spreading hatred in the country. Maldives is like a bubbling volcano ready for explosions. It is the vulnerable children who suffer most without a voice.
I was talking to another friend Hasia about orphan and she wanted me to tell her story stating that “... how can my kids not be orphans when their father abandoned them in a foreign country.” This reminds me that one on my cousin's also abandoned his children and fled. Unfortunately, for these children their mother too abandoned them. It was the eldest girl who took charge and looked after her siblings. These children did not end up on the streets but were left at the mercy of their relatives. With the demanding life and the nuclear family style copied from the western society is now leaving children abandoned on the streets. Parents who resort to using drugs adds to the suffering of the vulnerable children.
Reflecting on my life and comparing with hers. I found that the difference was I kept my job and continued my education. It was in 2006 Hasia's husband has abandoned her and the kids while they were in Sri Lanka. Now divorced, Hasia with her two children are totally dependent on her relatives. She also said with exhaustion “ I was not even aware that he had a second wife in Trivendram, India, until much later.... this is how men work.” She completed the story with sign and said “I am fortunate that my family is looking after me and the children.” My education was the tool that provided me the opportunity to educate my kids. My independent nature and strong faith gave me strength to face the change needed.
Positive changes for the better
I believe we can change though changing long held views and practices are the most stressful things to confront. The way women perceive themselves can help children to grow and break the vicious cycle to be seen as all kids equal in society. Create a forum to discuss women issues and find solutions without drugs.
I want to create an institution in Maldives where kids can bloom and grow into healthy adults. Here people will focus on good deeds done by kids who are under their care not their mistakes. Trust and love the kids for who they are. This would be great for vulnerable kids. Let the kids know it is not their fault to be in the situation they are. Show them it is OK to make mistakes as long as we learn from them. Demonstrate all individuals are unique, special and important. Treat them fairly and justly and provide support and create opportunity for education for them to be successful.
I want to voice my thoughts and conduct gatherings to educate people about children rights, drug abuse and their responsibilities as members of the community. Understanding the laws, implementing and amending the laws to protect these children. Find solutions for the vulnerable children and develop ways to execute them. I believe education is the key to freedom, education can help. I no longer want to do nothing.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.